Crossing the Styx

Elihu Burritt on the road to Charleston, 1853

Behold, a scene from Dante or Greek myth:
the sullen river lit with flares, a ride
across swift waters. On the other side,
more darkness. “Haul the line ashore! Forthwith!”
What small craft dares to ferry this cold frith
that cuts like war? Two compass points divide
a continent that’s washed by bloody tide.
A devil stokes the forge that sears the smith.

You wish to bring some lightness to this land?
The ferryman, the torch-men—how they quake,
these bondsmen black as any slave that fell
from freedom to inferno. Here they stand
and wait their token. Do you mean to make
a cultivated heaven of this hell?


“Crossing the Styx” is a variant of an unrhymed sonnet in Taylor Graham’s book, Walking with Elihu: poems on Elihu Burritt, the Learned Blacksmith (Hot Pepper Press, 2010). Visit Graham’s Web site.